Wednesday, May 12, 2010
1 Recipe #112: Sopa de Plátanos (Colombian-Style Plantain Soup)
One of my favorite interrnational cuisines, if I had to choose by continent, is, hands down, the food of South America. I am particularly enamored with Brazilian, Peruvian, & Colombian food.
Once you've savored good churrascaria, sopa de plátanos, cholado (especially one made with jugo fresco de maracuyá), or delicious alfajores, it's impossible to remain neutral on this subject. :) At best, the experience is nothing less than transformative. :-D
(For those of you who need a quick translation of the above: sopa de plátanos = plantain soup, cholado = a Colombian fruit-ice-juice-condensed milk concoction, & alfajores = two sweet biscuits typically sprinkled with powdered sugar & sandwiched together with a deliciously sweet and creamy milk caramel concoction known as dulce de leche.)
Today, I found myself reminiscing a bit about Colombian food, in particular the meals we used to eat at this fabulous local area restaurant that made particularly heavenly Colombian fare -- thick, tender, juicy chunks of carne asada straight from the grill, crispy baked plantains with cheese, delicious, freshly made cholado, etc. -- Everything was fresh and made from scratch. Sadly, that restaurant is no more, and has since been replaced with a totally different Colombian restaurant, one which pales in comparison, has completely new management and chefs, and is also unfortunately a greasy spoon. First of all, in great contrast to the previous restaurant, everything on this new restaurant's menu is fried :( -- and I kid you not, the entire menu is nothing but fried food! -- which means that I won't ever be eating there any time soon. :) We once walked into the restaurant right after it was sold to the latest owners, to see what the new place was all about, and just the smell alone of that place was enough to drive me away screaming in a fit of horror. Haha!
[For the record, I'm not saying that I never ever eat fried food, but let's just say that it's a rare occurrence -- the exception rather than the rule -- and when I do eat it, it's got to be something so sensational and extraordinarily delicious that's it's worth working extra hard to burn off the calories. ;) I'm not so easily baited by fried food, even when ravenously hungry, so it's got to be something truly out-of-this-world delicious. When you work hard to stay fit, the idea of fried food often quickly loses its appeal. ;) ]
Anyhow, as I was saying, I really do miss our favorite, now nonexistent Colombian restaurant and had recently been hankering for a bowl of their sopa de plátanos. As they've since gone out of business and there isn't a decent Colombian restaurant within a 50-mile radius of our home (at least none that I know of!), I knew that the only way I was going to have a bowl of Colombian-style sopa de plátanos -- especially one which closely resembled the one we used to eat in our much-beloved and now non-existent restaurant -- was if I tried to reproduce it in my own kitchen. :-D So, here's the result of those efforts.
Basically, this is what happens when I have a strong yearning to recreate a culinary experience of days gone by; I usually find myself in the kitchen, channeling that desire into an unparalleled and spirited force of motivation, and then transposing all of that laser-focus and energy into a recipe. This is how food can be a link to our memories, a way of keeping people, places, and experiences alive in our minds.
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 c. yellow onion, diced (about 1/2 onion)
1/4 c. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
1 Tbsp. garlic, finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. baby carrots, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
1/2 c. celery, diced (about 1 celery stalk, including leafy greens)
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cumin
4 c. fresh chicken stock (or low-sodium broth) (I used the left-over stock from the chicken tamales dish.)
1 c. red-skinned potato (or yuca, if available), scrubbed, peeled, and cubed
1 c. green (unripe) plantain, peeled and quartered just before being added to the pot (about 1 large plantain)
2 Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lime juice (the juice of about 1 lime)
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, finely minced
Directions: Sauté the onions, scallions, garlic, carrots, celery, & bay leaf in olive oil on low heat in a large soup pot for 3-5 minutes until soft (but not browned). Season with salt, pepper, & cumin, and add chicken stock. Add potato & plantain, & bring to a boil, stirring on occasion. Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, remove from heat, & let cool. Remove bay leaf. Transfer soup to a blender and purée until smooth. (Or, alternatively, if you like your soup a bit chunkier, like I do, pluck out plantains & reserve, blending together all other ingredients & then adding the plantain pieces back into the blended portion of the soup.) Return soup to pot, turn heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) for an additional 20-25 minutes. Plantains & potatoes should both be very soft. Let cool, transfer to the blender, add the lime juice, & purée one last time. Transfer to bowls, garnish with cilantro, & serve. Other optional toppings include shredded Parmesan cheese, a dash of red chili pepper flakes, low-fat sour cream (or nonfat yoghurt), avocado, & aji. If you like, you can also add a lime wedge to each plate underneath the soup bowl, to allow your guests to add more lime juice to the soup if they so desire.
Yield: Serves 3-4.
Chef's Notes: It's very important that you select green (i.e., unripe) plantains for this soup recipe. Unripe plantains have a chalky texture and a savory taste, resembling that of a potato. Ripe plantains are sweet, and will change the entire flavor of the soup, and not for the better either. ;) Sweet plantains are perfectly fine for many other dishes, but not this one.
To make this recipe vegetarian or vegan, simply substitute low-sodium vegetable stock/broth for the chicken broth/stock.